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Wildlife parks differ from wildlife sanctuaries in that they are open to the public. Individuals visit wildlife parks and zoos specifically to view the animals, which are exhibited in captivity. In addition to their purpose of being a tourist attraction and recreational facility, many modern wildlife parks and zoos offer educational programs and educational outreach, conservation study and engage in captive breeding programs.

Zoos are a subject of controversy stemming from many sources, including the quality of life of the animals they exhibit, and the purpose of whether they should be exhibiting captive animals at all. Zoos are frequently criticized by animal rights activists and groups. Zoo professionals claim their facilities serve several important functions, from educating the public to conservation of biodiversity. Other zoos define their aims as recreation, education, research, and conservation. Animal-rights groups claim that there is a wide gap between these claims and actual practice. They claim zoos ultimately operate for commercial and entertainment purposes, as well as for financial profit. Types of wildlife parks include urban zoos, open-range wildlife parks, safari-type wildlife parks, animal theme parks, roadside parks, petting zoos, and specialized wildlife parks. The most traditional form of maintaining wild animals in captivity is keeping them in cages made of concrete or metal, in aviaries, or fenced paddocks. Wildlife parks and zoos are headed by professionals such as zoologists or veterinarians. Some zoos have programs in place that work to save endangered species. For example, the American Bison was close to extinction at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1907, the Bronx Zoo was the first zoo to help the American Bison Society with its reintroduction program by sending 15 Bison to the Wichita Forest Reserve in Oklahoma. However, most animals in wildlife parks and zoos are bred in captivity for the sole purpose of public display, not for species protection. The controversy surrounding wildlife parks and zoos is not likely to end anytime soon.

Most countries have legislation to regulate zoos that requires these institutions to be licensed and inspected. In the United States, any public animal exhibit must be licensed and inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Drug Enforcement Agency, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and others. Depending on the animals they exhibit, the activities of zoos are regulated by laws including the Endangered Species Act, the Animal Welfare Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and others.


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